Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Frederick Delius: Music "Carried Sweet And Clear"

Frederick Delius was born on this day in Yorkshire, England, in 1862. At 24, he lived the classic story of breaking away from the family business - wool, no less - to pursue a love for the arts, in this case, music. The break was interesting for it took him first to Solano Grove and an orange plantation on the banks of the St. Johns River south of Jacksonville, Florida. Later, he would teach music in Danville, Virginia, before returning to Europe for formal education in Germany. He took the sounds of American culture with him. In 1888, he settled in Paris, later married the painter, Jelka Rosen, and devoted his life to composition.

In the last sixteen years of his life he was tortured by the pain of a slow death from syphilis contracted during his early years in Paris. In the four years before his death in 1934, he was blind and essentially paralyzed from the neck down. He composed and completed some of his most significant work during this period, all of it reaching paper through the notations of his loyal amanuensis, Eric Fenby.

In 1968, Ken Russell directed a biography of Frederick Delius for the BBC. OTR saw the program by chance in its U.S. premier during the summer of the following year. He was in full cultural rebellion against the West at the time, but the unique lyric quality of this English composer's music was like a magnet. There was no escape from the compelling soundscapes with such rich, complex imagery and depth.

OTR would outgrow his bitterness over the lost decade (1964-74) of the Johnson-Nixon years, but he never outgrew his fondness for the music of Delius. Today, he's pleased to report a wave of renewed international interest in that music in the last twenty years. In fact, the Delius recording catalog has never been larger in spite of the music being some of the most difficult to realize in performance.

This post opened with Song of Summer, written in 1930 when Delius was blind and paralyzed. To conclude, here are two earlier compositions. The first is from the Florida Suite, written when he was twenty years old. Music historians agree that this piece represents the first use of black American folk idioms in classical form by a European composer. He also composed the first black opera, Koanga. (George Gershwin is most often erroneously credited with this accomplishment, but his opera, Porgy and Bess, premiered fifty years later.) Delius influenced a number of popular music composers well  into the 20th century.

Duke Ellington composed In A Blue Summer Garden  as a tribute to Delius. And here is the work that inspired Ellington to honor one of the most lyrical composers in western music.

Music is a cry of the soul. It is addressed and should appeal instantly to the soul of the listener. It is a revelation, a thing to be reverenced.           
                                                                                                 Frederick Delius

Photo: Portrait of Frederick Delius by his wife, Jelka Rosen.

The Delius Society
Before the Champions: Frederick Delius' Florida Suite for Orchestra, Mary E. Greene., M.A. Thesis, University of Miami, 2011
Radio Swiss Classic, Frederick Delius
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Frederick Delius

This is a revision of an earlier post from 2012.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 7

What a great film. Don't know one man who can ignore the powerful memories emerging from this scene.

The original "field of dreams" in Dyersville, Iowa, has been a sacred destination for almost twenty-five years now. Here is some recent news about the field's preservation and future plans for its surroundings.

Reunions Ubique

OTR's high school reunion - the big 5-0 - takes place in about eighteen months, but the phenomenon relative to his older friends has been swirling around him these last few years. Frankly, he's looking forward to returning to Chesapeake Country and the Eastern Shore where he will see old classmates. Thanks to Facebook, about a hundred of them will not be strangers although they have gone unseen for most of those five decades. Perhaps he would have stayed closer to the Class of 1964 had he been a native and a product of twelve years of school there. Either way, it's going to be interesting, especially after reading this article that tells us we never really leave high school at all.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Jazz Birthday: Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997)

Stephane Grappelli in rehearsal                                      Photo: Murdo MacLeod   

Today marks the birthday of one of OTR's favorite jazz artists, the violinist, Stephane Grappelli. He was born is Paris, grew up poor and made a marginal living playing the violin in the streets and accompanying silent films on the piano. In 1934 he met a gypsy guitarist named Django Reinhard and, with him,, formed a quintette - Hot Club de France -  that would make history in the world of jazz and popular music.

Grappelli made his American debut in 1960, long after the Hot Club dissolved, and enjoyed a second career playing to admiring fans around the world until his death in 1997.

Here is a one-hour interview he made for NPR's Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz in 1990. It's lively and full of warm conversation,  humor, and some wonderful, intimate performances. If readers don't have an hour to enjoy this jazz master  at work, here is a taste of his contribution to music. OTR hopes that music is a song without end.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do You Nestor?

"The Chicane" and Mormon Temple, Kensington, Maryland     Photo: Evan Glass

Most news junkies know Jonah Goldberg for his political commentary. Beyond the politics, he often provides us with interesting and  humorous anecdotes about life inside the Beltway. His National Review post today may deal with gun control, but OTR thinks the real gem therein is the concept of nestoring.

Anyone who has driven the Capital Beltway across eastern Montgomery County is quite familiar with  planned nestoring. A portion of that stretch is fondly referred to as "the chicane" by local drivers. When you drive it at 80 mph in a crisp Saturday sunrise and no traffic - probably impossible these days - you'll understand. Some rules are just made to be broken.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roe v. Wade Turns Forty

Norma McCorvey, plaintiff, "Jane Roe," in Rove v. Wade
Today is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision that has done little to settle the question of abortion in American society. OTR abhors the practice along with the decision guaranteeing its universal right, and he would have opposed a decision ensuring its universal denial as well. From a legal perspective, he believes a decision on this matter is best reserved for the states. The best decision, however, does not reside in the courts at all for this is a matter reserved for the heart.

The American experiment has a rather questionable record when it chooses the legal extremes of universal permission or denial in moral matters. Two glaring examples of failure in this arena include the prohibition of alcohol (1919-1933) and the so-called War on Drugs (1914-present, but enhanced since 1970). Although Roe v. Wade brought, among other outcomes, access and safety to the practice of abortion, it gave rise to program abuse, deep social division, and the ethnic cleansing of black America that, sadly, rivals the best intentions of the eugenics movement of a century ago. Indeed, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

This is an emotional issue - "a matter reserved for the heart" - and its subjective nature arouses broad opinion. William Katz has a post at Urgent Agenda that shares/shadows the observations above.  Our friends at Real Clear Politics have provided links to Jeffrey Toobin's comments in The New Yorker and those of Gail Collins from The New York Times. The editors at National Review also spoke on the issue earlier today.

Monday, January 21, 2013

As The Blue Model Of Government Fades, What Will Take Its Place?

Columbus Crossing the Atlantic                                              N.C. Wyeth, 1927

The old adage, the more things change the more they remain the same, finds serious reinforcement in a Walter Russell Mead article posted yesterday at The American Interest. Mead is a traditional liberal schooled in English, history, and American foreign policy. In that respect he is an "old school Democrat" with  strong beliefs in our Constitution as well as an understanding and respect for the traditions that have guided the nation and its foreign policy over two centuries. He understands that our government structure may change, but the principles that have made it exceptional will remain strong:

The state will transform but it will not disappear. We may change the way the educational system works, but the goal of the changes will be to ensure more and better universal education. We may change the policies aimed at helping low income people move up the ladder of life, but American society does not want to write off the poor. We may liberalize drug laws and look for alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders, but we won’t abandon the effort to protect the public from unsafe or impure drugs and we won’t turn law and order over to the private sector. We may look for ways to reduce the bureaucratic delays when it comes to permitting processes, but we will not abandon the effort to impose safety and environmental standards. The state will go high tech, its processes will accelerate, bureaucracies will become flatter and more open, but it won’t wither away.

Full Fathom Five: 5.0 Liberalism and the Future of the State  is a short lesson in the traditions that have shaped our national character. It is a hopeful and satisfying approach to the question of change, an ever-present challenge and opportunity that Mead sees as new beginnings without end:

The old America I grew up in and the new America growing up around me now are very different places. Some of the changes are for the better and others are for the worse. Yet somehow the America in which my grandfather was born in 1897 is connected to the country my youngest great-nephew (born in 2012) will come to know. The lasting values that were the best things about the America of 1897, or of 1776 for that matter, will still matter in 2097 and beyond. They will be embodied in different institutions and will deal with more complex realities than we knew in earlier times, but the spirit of ordered liberty that has brought the American experiment so far, so fast, will, if we get things right, still be at the core of American life—and we will still, I suspect, be quarreling about how to organize and limit government in ways that the founding fathers would recognize.

OTR thinks readers will enjoy this uplifting commentary from someone well-grounded in the American story and equipped with exceptional writing skills, two elements we find sorely lacking among our political elite today.

On that note...it is always a good day when this blogger can link politics, history, economics, literature and music into a coherent post.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit.

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 6

The darkness holds secrets.

 Hid you eyes in that dark theater, did you?  Bet you weren't alone.

Oh how we love to be terrified at the movies.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe's Birthday

Today marks the 204th anniversary of the birth of the American writer, Edgar Allan Poe.  I don't recall when Poe's work first entered my life, but I was reading him before high school. He's been a source of great enjoyment to my family. Poe was buried in Baltimore in 1849, a fact that made him even more popular with my English teachers in Maryland. My thanks to all of them.

Poe and I do share a bit of history. He was stationed at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina for about a year beginning in 1827. The fort and island are the setting for his short story, The Gold Bug. During my career, I spent several weeks walking the damp tunnels, the grassy terreplein, and studying the character of this historic fort and those who garrisoned it over the centuries. I watched the sun rise and set over its walls, and stood at the gun emplacements at midnight listening to the invisible surf breaking on the beach or watching ship traffic moving in and out of Charleston harbor. For all I know, Poe's shadow may have watched my every move.

There is magic about deep historic places, and it is magnified by darkness, fog, or a rich drizzle. Judging by the vast body of his work, I'd say Poe enjoyed his duty station at Fort Moultrie. His biographers would tell us otherwise. Unrest, tension and unhappiness seemed to follow him everywhere. Out of his personal darkness came a magic that blossomed into a timeless contribution to Western literature.

In this century, the Poe legacy gave rise to another mystery, the Poe Toaster. Beginning in the 1930s, the toaster appeared in the early hours of January 19 at the stone marking Poe's original burial site in the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore. For the next seven decades, the toaster - and perhaps his son - appeared without fail until 2009. Has what began with a mystery ended with a mystery? We can only wait in the darkness for an answer that may never come.

Beware, the wait could be maddening...

... at least, imaginative...

N.B. An earlier version of this post appeared in January 2009.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Life And Death Of The Game Arcade

Marty's Playland                     Ocean City, Maryland
OTR was introduced to game arcades in Ocean City, Maryland, in his late childhood. He enjoyed carnival arcades previously, but the enjoyment paled in comparison to the immersive experiences in those permanent playlands along the boardwalk. The noise, the lights, the aroma of the sea mingled with floor wax and ozone. And then there were all those winning tickets to redeem for more play tokens, a tacky souvenir or simply keep for the next trip to the beach. Almost thirty years would elapse before he would take his own children into the world of the arcade. Of course, it was a far different place with the advent of the electronic video game.

Today, Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds posts a link to a Time.com article about the impact another two decades has made on the arcade industry: The Tragic, World-Changing Loss of the Great American Arcade.
The first paragraph has a link to a "must see" Verge article by Laura June. It may be a bit long for today's attention spans, but the information and illustrations - creative layout, as well - make it worthwhile.

OTR would like to think the game arcade, at least the amusement arcade of his childhood, will have a place in the American experience to come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Even More - Another Favorite Scene Or Two From A Woody Allen Movie - 5.5

After posting this week's "favorite scenes" selection from the mind of Woody Allen, OTR was drawn into the You Tube tunnel for a few hours and rediscovered the opening scenes from his 1975 comedy, Love and Death. Absolutely hilarious as comedy, amazingly effective as an opening, and filled with a fine selection of  Sergei Prokofiev's music. We're on an Allen role, so this piece of entertainment can't wait:

Wonderful, wonderful!

The concluding scene is equally entertaining, but OTR has given readers/viewers enough today...or has he...

If you can get Death dancing with you at the end, it's a pretty good end.

Favorite Scenes From A Century of Cinema - 5

It would be impossible to make a list of favorite scenes without a few clips from Woody Allen's classic, Annie Hall:

Allen may be a bit creepy to some, but there is no question he is a genius at comedy whether it's writing, acting or directing. He's had us laughing for two generations.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Worth A Thousand Words

Steven Hayward, one of the cultural beacons at Power Line, has posted a photo essay entitled, The Week In Pictures. Here is a sample of what he describes as a post that sheds "light on The Human Condition in 2013."  Prepare to enjoy:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Two Films And A Book Or Two

Boy Reading An Adventure Story     Norman Rockwell, 1923

There is some worthy arts commentary in the blogosphere this week. William Katz, our Hollywood insider with a CIA background, has some kind words for the film, Zero Dark Thirty, but for more than the news it's a good film. John V. Fleming, the Louis W. Fairchild Professor of Literature emeritus at Princeton University, tells us why he believes the latest Les Miserables on film has such appeal. And Scott Johnson, our cultural beacon at Power Line, provides some commentary on Bill Steigerwald's book that retraces John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley: In Search of America. Steigerwald found there was plenty of fiction and "dishonesty" in Steinbeck's travelogue, but all was not lost. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 4

This favorite scene comes from the 1968 release of The Producers. The films stars Zero Mostel at the height of his career and Gene Wilder in his first big role. Only the mind of the comedy genius, Mel Brooks, could produce something so dark, absurd, and hilarious. The film was Brooks's first attempt at directing. When asked to choose a favorite film from his long and notable filmography, he always says, The Producers.

Readers who have never watched this version are in for a treat.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany 2012

Epiphany                               Jaime Huguent, ca 1464

Today is Epiphany, a celebration of the visit of the three kings to the infant Jesus, and their recognition of Him as the King of Kings.

The carol for the day:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Music For The Twelfth Day Of Christmas

Twelfth Night activities in New Orleans, 1884

Today is the twelfth and final day of Christmas.  For some, it will end with feasting, music, dancing, and theater at Twelfth Night festivities. When all the party goers have arrived, each will select a small festival cake or cake slice. Three of those cakes contain a hidden bean or token designating them as the king cake, queen cake and fool cake. The lucky holders of the royal cakes oversee the evening's activities before returning to their normal lives, most likely "below the salt."  These Twelfth Night traditions have been part of western culture for over a thousand years.

This day is important among Christians who maintain liturgical traditions: it marks the end of the twelve day festival celebrating the birth of Christ, it is the eve of Epiphany, and it is the beginning of the carnival season ending with Mardi Gras. Those who are reluctant to bid Christmas farewell can take heart knowing that the tradition of Christmastide extends through February 2 or Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

Here at the OTR household, we trust that you have experienced a wonder-filled Christmas. May you live throughout this new year in the spirit of Twelfth Night, finding joy and happiness in what often seems a disordered world. In the words of William Shakespeare, who had a bit to say about this evening in Twelfth Night, (Act II, Scene 5):

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.  

Great or common - What you will!

And speaking of greatness, our musical celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas ends with Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio, surely one of the most joyous compositions ever.

Those interested in owning this landmark recording can find it here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Music For The Eleventh Day Of Christmas

The Nativity              Unknown artist, Austrian, ca 1400

Some familiar and beloved music by George Frederick Handel:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Music For The Tenth Day Of Christmas

Ives's Yale graduation photo, 1898

How sad that the music of the American composer,Charles Ives (1874-1954), was not taken seriously until many years after his death.  Here is Ives's A Christmas Carol, written in 1894.  Simple and wonderful, and a century ahead of its time.

Little star of Bethlehem!
Do we see Thee now?
Do we see Thee shining
O'er the tall trees?

Little child of Bethlehem!
Do we hear Thee in our hearts?
Hear the angels singing:
Peace on earth, good will to men!

O'er the cradle of a King
Hear the Angels sing:
In Excelsis Gloria, Gloria!
From his Father's home on high,
Lo! for us He came to die;
Hear the Angels sing:
Venite adoremus Dominum

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 3

Blade Runner (1982) is a complex film that occupies a comfortable spot on the American Film Institute's list of the top ten science fiction films of all time. Unfortunately, it had a mediocre reception at the box office primarily because its release coincided with that of Star War II - The Wrath of Khan and E.T. The Extraterrestrial. It is no wonder that this film is recognized as a cult classic among sci-fi buffs rather than a deserving blockbuster among a wider audience.

This film will not answer any questions for you, but it surely will prompt its audience to ponder what it means to be human.

In the following scene the "organic robot." Roy Batty, saves the life of Rick Deckard, the blade runner who comes out of retirement to kill him. Before Roy's programmed life comes to an end, he delivers one of the most notable monologues ever on film.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Music For The Ninth Day Of Christmas

Today's Christmas song, Frosty the Snowman, is contemporary and certainly secular in content. The song has a special place in OTR's heart because he and its co-writer, Walter E. "Jack" Rollins (1906-1973), are native ridge runners born in Keyser, West Virginia.  Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys recorded the song in 1950. It was an instant hit to be covered by scores of singers over the next sixty years. As an international star in song, print, film, and television, one could say that Frosty's influence has certainly not melted away over the years.

Readers who do not follow the Rollins link may be interested to know that he also wrote Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Smokey the Bear and a host of songs for several leading country music stars of the '50s and '60s.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Music For The Eighth Day Of Christmas

Llanllawer Holy Well, and stream Pembrokeshire       Photograph: Richard Law

Here is a Welsh carol for New Year's Day set to the music of the British composer, Benjamin Britten. The custom of Levy Dew derives from an ancient tradition of drawing water from a well and sprinkling it on townspeople as a means of cleansing or preparing them to face the new year.

Here we bring new water from the well so clear
To worship God, with this happy New Year

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.

Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her toe,
Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, etc.

Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her chin,
Open you the East Door, and let the New Year in.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, etc.